Black Belts and Black Jazz Shoes: Discovering My Purpose Through Persevering

Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, please share.

I will not stop dancing until each of my toes fall off. I am currently waiting on the sixth toe to take a turn for the worse.

I have an intense relationship with dance. I have been dancing on a competitive team since I was twelve­— meaning that I started late (since most dancers begin taking classes around the age of four). My delay in dance was due to my Taekwondo career.

Following my older sister into the dojang for my first class, I nervously twisted my new, crisp white belt and worried about the decision I had made. I should have stuck with soccer; sitting on the sidelines eating orange slices is so much easier. My sister loved martial arts and had made friends, so I shook off any doubts. Little did I know that for the next four and a half years I would attend class four to five times a week and compete at countless Taekwondo tournaments. After receiving my blue belt, I found that sparring became more frightening because girls were kicking me harder and to the head. I had always admired dance, had friends on competitive dance teams, and now I wanted to change sports after three years of Taekwondo. My parents encouraged me to finish what I had started in Taekwondo, but compromised by enrolling me in two dance classes. It is no coincidence that on the same day I tested for my black belt, I also auditioned for the competitive dance team. I had found the activity that truly excited me and I was determined to pursue it.

In Taekwondo, I learned perseverance in the face of physical and psychological hardship, yet my life in martial arts caused me to be positioned behind my peers in dance. I was placed on the least talented team in the beginning of my dance career, and even though I pushed myself to perform my best and improved each year, I was disappointed that I never made the most exclusive dances.

Although I was not the most technical dancer at my studio, I strove even harder because of how obsessed I became with dance. I turned across the floor to Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” in jazz. I grooved to Justin Timberlake in hip-hop. Fracturing my ankle in a dance class at age thirteen forced me to push after surgery and through recovery to reach the level I hoped to attain, and the next year I was finally granted the opportunity to compete a solo onstage. The following year, I placed first overall in two competitions and I gained genuine confidence for the first time. From the exhausting hours in the studio to the intense butterflies before performing onstage, I learned that my desire to excel was what compelled me to continue growing as an artist.

Dance allows me to express different emotions through my body, helps me discover my musicality, and lets me connect with an audience. Dance makes me believe I have a purpose.

My story of ambition and perseverance through finishing Taekwondo and growing in dance has shaped me into who I am today. While all performers seek recognition, I have learned that internal motivation is more important. As I look back at my seven years in dance, I realize that I had to sacrifice what many high school students had time to participate in. Whether it was being a part of a popular charity program, joining the school’s Associated Student Body, or dating, I instead prioritized a passion I consider my core and my being, one that I am certainly not ready to resign from. Though the seven year old with her white belt in hand would have been surprised to hear that her future self would evolve into a competitive dancer with the desire to bloom into a true artist, the Sara who earned the black belt honors the challenge.

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